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PubCon: Danny Sullivan Speaks

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Today’s keynote featured the lyrical stylings of Danny Sullivan, whose decade-long observation of the search engine industry has been a fixture of his blogging and conference sessions. WebProNews settled in for the story.

Danny Sullivan will be a free agent soon, his long-time association with Search Engine Watch coming to an end, to be followed by his departure from the Search Engine Strategies conference series. He announced during the keynote that he, Barry Schwartz, and Chris Sherman would begin writing about search on a new website. “Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land” launches on December 11th.

Those who may have been a little surprised that he would keynote a rival conference learned how much he respects the work done by Brett Tabke at WebmasterWorld and PubCon.

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan

He spoke respectively of his hosts, and credited them with being an influence on the search industry. They coined the phrase “Google Dance,” which many of our readers will recognize as the times when Google performs an update with its index. Sullivan said that when things go wrong in search, WebmasterWorld is usually the first place to find out about them.

Sullivan also credited Tabke and company with influencing the formation of Sitemaps.org. The new site will be jointly supported by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft and will encourage webmasters to use sitemaps to help search engines index their sites best.

He remarked about the state of search by discussing how it has become confused in the mainstream media with search advertising. Some in traditional media disdain contextual ads, rating them just above classifieds in appeal.

(The impact paid search has had on the fortunes of print media empires in particular, by being a measurable ad medium, probably has a lot to do with this perception among the mainstream media. – David)

Even though the media equates Google with advertising, ads are not search. Sullivan noted very directly that search is now a fundamental marketing medium.

It may be too fundamental for some marketers, who complain about SEM not being friendly to brands. Search marketing is not about brands, though; Sullivan said it is about providing an answer to a query. A searcher seeks, and a search ad and organic results deliver.

The confusion for brand marketers probably rests in the idea that search is a reverse-broadcast medium. Sullivan noted that the searcher broadcasts a desire through a search engine, and is served with a response. Think of SEM as a yellow pages directory to get the idea.

He carried the reverse broadcast metaphor forward, in likening the major search players to being key “desire broadcast” stations. Search marketers understand how to feed and optimize the messages shown on those stations.

Those SEMs scout the location, write the script, and deliver the result on request when the searcher broadcasts that desire.

Sullivan also recounted the generational progression of search over the past decade. Initially it was just a way to find words on a page. Then it moved to the second generation, where links became important and PageRank became a household word (among those who follow search, anyway.)

Now search is in a third generation, which Sullivan marked as the time of vertical search and personalized search.

Verticals focus on a specific niche. They exchange horizontal breadth of scope for vertical depth of coverage for topics like news, health, music, etc.

With personalized search, less spam and junk come to the user as their searching habits form the scope of their specific search results. It’s based on what the user visits, or what their network visits, and is aggregated over time.

To capitalize on this new generation of vertical search, Sullivan recounted the mantra of quality content, including titles and descriptions, for site publishers to follow. But it’s also important to watch how the search companies expand beyond search, to places like video or audio advertising.

Webmasters need to watch their metrics. Sullivan said all of them are metrics marketers, because they market based on the metrics they reach with their sites, and the metrics they wish to reach.

As time progresses, search marketing should become more of a key strategy in advertising and public relations campaigns as soon as they begin. Sullivan also cited challenges, like privacy and copyright questions, that will continue to vex the search engine industry.

“Search is here to stay,” he said. “It’s now a fundamental ad medium, like the traditionals.” Even these challenges aren’t going to change that.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

PubCon: Danny Sullivan Speaks
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